As he rapped on her hatch, somehow he knew it wouldn't be that simple. Things with her never were. She always confused things for him. He'd never met a woman like her before, craziness aside. And that was a scary thought.
"Come in," she called out before he'd even finished knocking. He grunted as he worked the hatch, he should have known she'd be expecting him. And that gave him pause before he descended the ladder to her bunk. Should he be giving into her expectations? Was he playing into some hand in which she held the trump card?
If he were afraid of a high stakes game, he might turn back. Jayne Cobb wasn't afraid of nothing. That included a slip of a girl who he could toss with one hand. And who was crazy to boot.
"Not crazy," she called up.
"Yeah, well, get out of my head."
He took the ladder then. She was right there next to him when he got to the floor. She touched his head, the barest brush of her fingertips. "He wants me in his head."
"He does," he grimaced with a shake of his head. "Does not."
"Tell her what is on your mind." She smiled then, looking like she knew everything.
"Nothin'," he said gruffly.
She sat on the edge of her bed, hands folded neatly in her lap. He noticed that about her. Her room was clean, bed neatly made. Everything set aside properly. Nothing out of place. Now, why couldn't she make herself look that neat and tidy.
"Does not remember how."
"You don't remember how?"
He scratched his jaw. She of course said nothing, which left him to try to piece together the puzzle that was her mind. And her life.
"What's that mean?"
She merely shrugged. This is why he stayed away from her. She spoke in riddles, few word sentences that he supposed made sense to her.
"Least no one took a bullet's meant for you."
She arched a brow in his direction. He sat next to her, adjusting the shoulder holster he'd put on as soon as he could. He'd been that shook by what'd happened. Things like that just didn't happen to him. He wasn't no hero. Not the type those people had built him up into being anyway. I mean, sure he'd done his fair of life saving here on Serenity, but that wasn't heroic. That was just doing the job. Well. He was paid for it anyway so he'd better do it well.
He shook his head, still going over the events in his head. He'd spoken the truth, surely they'd heard his explanation for that fateful day that changed their lives. He hadn't been heroic, he'd saved his hide at all costs. Even letting a small fortune go.
"Why would someone do that? Who'd take one look at me and think I was worth dying for? That I'd do anything to help anyone that wasn't going to help me out, too?"
She sat silent, immobile, hands still clutched in her lap. Her eyes were busy, though. She was scanning his face. He swallowed hard when her eyes fell to his neck. And then lower. He'd changed so he was just wearing a T-shirt and trousers. Nothing unusual for him around the ship, but suddenly he wondered if he shouldn't have worn more. As if she could see too much. But she could without the form fitting shirt, so it didn't much matter what he wore.
"You were meaning you don't remember how to keep yourself neat?" He wanted to get her attention off him, at least for a little bit. He'd come here, so it was his own fault. He realized that. He'd just wanted company from someone who wasn't going to feel sorry for him. Or say something to try and make him feel better. That's not what he wanted.
She stared. He couldn't recall seeing her blink since he'd come down to her bunk. She must have, though. No one could go that long without blinking.
"So, all that's standing in your way of looking presentable is knowing how?"
She shrugged. "You seem to prefer me this way."
He scowled. "Why'd you say that?"
"If I look as crazy as you think I am then you're safe."
"Safe?" he sneered. "From what? You?"
She went back to saying nothing, leaving him to figure out the puzzle. He wasn't good at puzzles, not thinking ones anyway.
"What do you do in here anyway?" he asked. He stood then to examine her barracks. Her room was bare, other than a brush sitting on her nightstand, which he picked up for something to do. She certainly didn't seem to know how to use it. He supposed she could have stuff stashed like he did, but he didn't think so. He had weapons hidden. He couldn't imagine her having anything valuable worth stowing away. Her brother had taken her from the Alliance, whisked her away with nothing but the clothes on her back. They'd made stops, but always they'd had to leave so quickly she couldn't have had time to buy anything.
"Nothing. Think. Listen to the ship."
"The ship? It's a thing and things don't talk."
"Of course she does."
He rolled his eyes, knowing better than to get into a debate with a crazy woman about whether things talk.
"Who you trying to convince? Me or you? Cuz it'll take more than words to convince me."
She patted the spot on the bed next to her. He came and sat back down. And just as he'd done that she got up. What the hell was she doing now? She proceeded to sit on the floor by his feet then. He spread them just enough for her to nestle herself there comfortably. He didn't need to spread them far since she was just a little thing.
"Not little," she murmured.
"You are so. I could break you in half just like that," he said with a snap of his fingers.
She laughed then. What had he said that was funny?
"She would like to see you try."
"She would huh?"
He wasn't sure what her point in moving had been, but with the brush in his hand and her head right there between his knees. Well, he set about brushing her hair. It gave him something to do, kept his hands busy. And he was a man that liked to keep busy.
She was quiet for a spell, apparently she approved of his brushing her hair. He had to admit for as unruly as it was, it was soft and the brush skimmed through it pretty easily. He was stopped once in a while from the smooth, clean strokes by a snag or snarl.
She smelled, he noticed on a few upstrokes, like flowers or something feminine. It was subtle, though, not overwhelming like many of the women he'd been with. He imagined it would stay with him, though. She had that affect on him.
"Did their thinking Jayne was a hero hurt them?" she asked. As if sensing his thoughts were getting too personal for his liking.
"You heard me, but I'll rephrase. The years spent thinking you were a hero," she scrunched her face as if she was thinking real hard. "That you'd given them money from the sky," she said, lifting her arms as if visualizing the very money in question falling to the ground. "Did it hurt them?"
"Well," he paused. Did it hurt them? "I suppose not." He imagined maybe it might have helped them in a way. Given them hope. Certainly, the money had helped.
"Then why does this upset you?"
"Someone died to save my sorry ass."
"Was that not his choice to make?"
She lowered her head so he could brush the ends better.
"All right, yes, but he shouldn't have made that choice."
He wasn't sure why talking to her like this, without having to face her worked for him.
"And you would prefer it was you who was dead?"
"Well, no, put like that…I would have gotten my weapon out in time. That is what Mal is paying me for. A merc's only as good as his weapons you know."
"Will he not, too, be made a hero?"
"He died saving you, their hero. False or not, they spent years idolizing you as such. And yet, he died defending you. They now have another hero."
He paused mid-stroke of the brush. He hadn't thought about it quite like that. "Yeah, I suppose," he said gruffly.
He stopped brushing, letting the brush rest against her shoulder.
"Why are you being nice to me?"
"Why are you being nice to me?" she parroted.
"I'm not. Not really. Just needed something to do."
She shifted then, turning to kneel so she faced him with her hands at his knees. Her hair brushed like it was she looked…pretty. Beautiful even. No makeup, no jewelry, no fancy dresses.
"Not beautiful," she whispered.
His eyes widened. For the briefest of moments he'd forgotten she could read his mind. Good thing he'd kept his thoughts clean. Did she really see herself that way? As not beautiful? Or was that something the Alliance had done, a part of her they'd taken.
He picked her up then, it was easy enough to do she barely weighed more than a feather. Settling her on his lap, he brushed her cheek with the back of his hand. He wasn't a kind or gentle man. He'd hardened his heart long ago. Seeing that look of doubt in her eyes, though, was his undoing.
He lowered his head, his mouth hovering over hers. Fingertips found the back of her head, running through her freshly brushed and untangled hair. She licked her lips, expecting him. Wanting him.
"Yeah, yeah, you are," he whispered before brushing his lips over hers. "Know why?" he asked, pulling away.
"Cuz I said so."
She smiled then. "And you're always right?"
He smiled back, a wide one. "Damned straight."
"What?" he asked, noticing her smile fade.
"Need more proof."
"You do, huh?"
She nodded, biting her lower lip. On most women it would have been a practiced move, a part of their seduction routine. Not on River, though.
"All right," he said, settling his arms around her waist and drawing her more snugly onto his lap. "You tell me when I've given you proof enough."
"Could take a while."
"Funny, I've got nothing but time. Least 'til the next job."
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com